Indexing Facts

The important issue in learning a new fact is having someplace relevant to put it in memory. New facts are only absorbed in terms of old facts that are already present in memory. If we are told about pirates and can only understand them as an instance of muggers in the street, we will have missed something important. In order to understand them in a more complex way, we must have understood something more complex in the first place. The kind of understanding necessary to comprehend complex issues does not come from memorizing terminology or sets of facts from lists. It comes from discussing, playing, imagining and in general, thinking.

Before we can absorb new background knowledge we must understand how this new information relates to facts we already know. It is easy enough to say, as Hirsch has said, that to be culturally literate one must understand "L'etat c'est moi." But to do this one must know about kings and France, and Louis, and why what he said is worth caring about. As it stands now, teachers and parents who listen to Hirsch will settle for a recitation without understanding so that students can pass the inevitable state administered standardized test.

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